Skullport Shakedown: An Unlikely Cast of Characters

Volo,

You’ll notice we haven’t reported back within the implicitly assumed time frame for your little fetch quest. If you read this and it’s still invisible, we weren’t dead yet a sun’s and moon’s rise ago. At the time of writing we’re not yet topside, but plan to be soon when I get over having my brain leak out of my ears (stop laughing, you fiend – I swear there is a perceivable difference in my performance). “Send” me if you want to adjust scope based on this report, otherwise I’ll see you at Halfway’s soon to wrap up. Do you need an overview of expenses?

Your trinket caught the interest of the magpie-eyed Zhents and has been in their possession roughly since the moment we set foot down here. This by means of a noxious feller of the brain-eating persuasion. Name’s Roxy. He’s been making meals of some of the citizens. Possible opportunity for a clever person to gain a conduit for information down here (see “Frankie” of Skull square), plus perhaps an entry for your next book, should you care to do away with the tentacled parasite. Happy to retry ourselves, if properly compensated but we’d need more firepower and significant hazard pay. Roxy seems remarkbly resistent to both banishment and appeals to morality. The latter is not a surprise. Consider figuring out how he was compelled to act- maybe the Zhents can be moved to get rid of him if he’s lost his use. Likely lower risk and cleaner than extending our contract to include assassination – it’ s not our forte.

Other persons of interest:

Goblin operator of a boxing ring / gambling den called the Batroost, name of Grubbus Pipsnout. Can possibly provide dumb muscle where needed, and has a hand in the local gambling scene (where said Roxy, apparently, had been cleaning out the house). The aunties were willing to pay lil shorty for his information, but my estimation is that he’d not be a hard nut to crack for a minor business advantage. Possibly another good source of intel. Provided the gold to pay for purchase of said trinket.

Madcap necromancer in Deadman’s Corner who makes zombies to have an audience for her conversations with herself. Cheap buy, but picky on payment type. Called Laurel Stillwater. Has a sister? Apparently willing to hold onto sums of gold without much instruction and then hand them off to whoever. Could send a runner by once a week just to ask for the petty cash, I guess.

A victim of Roxy. Orc. Mugrub, or somesuch. Not herself particularly interesting, but she’s the link where Roxy broke his clever little chain of diversion. Mugrub picked up the gold from Zombies-R-Us and went to purchase the trinket from Thimblewines, which Roxy then presumably took off of her when he had her brain for a snack. Tentacle hickies gave him away. Wonder if he tried to hide her murder by killing others, or if hels just hungry a lot.

Crystallene, operator of Thimblewines and an overall delight. Unsure if she knew we would come for the key or if the pickup by Mugrub was what she expected. Did she even know what she had? She knew to sell well, so she must’ve been aware of something. Wonder if she fences other wares, as making a living off of mechanical cockroaches and painted eggs seems unlikely.

Found both guide and initial contact to be performing within parameters. Consider a sweep of the travel route as the slavers and their pet snakes were pesky and you almost lost Gwenson, (who you apparently pay upfront). Asathra is wasted on that inn. Girl is too clever for her own good – that little puzzle of hers almost reduced cuz Damien to tears and drove auntie Elissa to drink.

The Skulls are a pesky lot with not a single sane thought still between them. Please advise on a clothier, as I do think I’d look dashing in a bow tie.

Faithfully,

Tio

Ps. Unicorn from C3 to E4.

Skullport Shakedown: introducing Din and Elissa

20 years ago:

One of the benefits of being all sneaky-sneak is that if someone is after the same mark you are, you hear them coming.
Din had quietly walked over the roofs of the townhouses of this block until she reached the middle house, climbed down to the top window at the back- making sure to not make a single sound with her light halfling step – and then carefully slid the window open and slipped inside. If she didn’t close the window, she’d probably be able to sneak out the same way after she got her hands on the ring. The merchant who owned the house, and technically owned the magic item Din was after – at least for a few more minutes – was away and all the staff were in bed. This should be an easy job, even on her own.
Easy until the owner, an older human man, came bustling in, unexpectedly returning from his travels. The staff rushed out to welcome him home, confused and asking if anything was wrong, but the merchant shrugged them off and sent them back to bed. Then, he walked up the stairs to his chambers – the very same ones Din was hidden in. ‘Fuck fuck fuck’ Din whispered to herself, but then got very quiet. Something sounded off. The sound of the merchant walking up the stairs was wrong. If she didn’t move and held her breath, Din could hear a soft clop-clopping sound instead of the soft thump of shoes on the stairs.
As soon as probably-not-the-merchant stepped into the room and closed the door, Din stepped behind them and pressed her dagger into their back. “I know you are not him. Get out, I’m on a job and I was here first”. Din heard a tinkling laugh filled with genuine joy in response, before the not-merchant whisked around and knocked the dagger out of her hand with their staff. At the same time the tip of the staff sprouted a bunch of daisies. The owner of the staff seemed nearly as surprised as Din at this. “Oooh, flowers, how very romantic, you shouldn’t have!” said Din as she stepped back and grabbed her rapier. The not-merchant laughed again and dropped their human form. Suddenly Din saw a female satyr before her, with a flowery staff in one hand, a sickle in the other, and a wickedly beautiful smile. Well, that explained the clop-clopping sound at least.
“Listen,” said the satyr “I don’t want to fight someone who looks this confident with a rapier. How about we share the loot and leave quietly so we don’t get caught?” Din felt the familiar tingle of magic at the base of their skull, trying to lure her into a false sense of security. Ohhh, this lady was dangerous… With a shake of her head Din resisted the magic, but that gave the satyr just enough time to hit her once with her staff. Ouch. Out of reflex Din tried to jump out of the way and hit a bookshelf. A few books fell, loudly, and stirring noises came from the other floors. Both women froze and waited until all was quiet.
Then Din moved into the satyr’s space, pushed her up against the wall, and held the point of her rapier to the other’s throat. Why did the satyr not stop smiling while she tilted her neck up, Din though. It was distracting. “We’re both going to get killed if we keep fighting. All I’m interested in is the ring, you can have any other loot. But no more hitting or creepy magic or stupid flowers, ok satyr lady? I just want to grab the ring and get out.” The satyr nodded and somehow widened their smile to something just beyond genuine. “Sure, I don’t care about a silly ring, I am just picking up something for Lady Titania. And you can call me Elissa.” After a hesitant nod, Din stepped back, grabbed her dagger off the floor and put her rapier away.
As Elissa rummaged through stacks of papers, Din quickly picked the locks and disassembled the traps of the heavy desk’s drawers, and opened the box the ring was in. It was beautifully inlaid with gems in a flower pattern. “Ohhh, that is pretty. I’ve changed my mind, I want it” said Elissa from just over Din’s shoulder, startling Din enough to nearly drop the ring “What does it do?”. “None of your business” answered Din. “Oh really? Do you want me to hit you with my staff again?” “Yes, because I’m soo scared of some flowers…” Quietly bickering Elissa and Din climb out of the window and up to the roof. Elissa sighs as she looks at the sliver of moon. “I really want that pretty ring though, but you have my word that I won’t use magic to get it. So how about some ale?”
A few years later, Din used that very same ring to propose to Elissa with. She always gets her way in the end.

Skullport Shakedown: Trade Secrets

Eleasis 23, Waterdeep, Dock Ward, The Hanging Lantern

The earliest hint of dawn light falls through the small basement window, filtered through dirt and cobwebs.

The kitchen is still too dark for fine needle work, so a moonlight-haired half-elf in sheer robes lights a squat, four-wicked candle. A steady dripping splishes onto the cracked, glazed tiles in front of her satin slippers.

She sighs.“You’re lucky you arrived when you did. Had you come sooner, you would have had to wait.” Tio frowns. “ A busy night? Tonight? I hadn’t thought it likely.” She nods. “An inland trade delegation.” Tio pulls a single shoulder up. “Guess they’re not here on sheep’s trade” She smiles. “Rough gems. And silver ore. Second grade.” “Will you tell Maradan of the jewelers then? You see her regularly.” “Probably. But first things first. You’re bleeding all over Polly’s floors.”

She reaches over and picks at the kerchief knotted around Tio’s upper arm. “Most people would go to a temple for this sort of thing.” Another one-shouldered shrug from the tiefling. “I prefer going to the seamstresses.” She gives him a look, then moves to kick him playfully. “Hey! Kicking a man when he is down, isn’t that against your religion, or something?” “If you cared about my religion, you should have gone to see a cleric after all.” He sighs, defeated. “Fine. Sorry.” As she unwraps the kerchief, the dripping speeds up. “That looks ugly. Why’d you let yourself get stabbed, dumbass.” “I know Hesper. No need to rub it in.” He slides over a small leather envelope. “Here, it should have needles pre-threaded.” “Did you even clean this before you tied your snotrag around it?” A third one-shouldered shrug. Hesper presses her lips together and moves her fingers in the gesture of a familiar cantrip before flicking open the envelope and picking up a curved needle.

Some time later they sit at a corner of the table, floor and silk slippers cleaned of blood, and a bottle of rum between them. Hesper’s face is more relaxed, and Tio’s a lot less grey. “You planning to spend the night?” “If Polly lets me.” “Hm. We’ve got a new girl, so no empty rooms. But we can share?” “That’d be nice. Old time’s sake, and all.” Hesper snorts at her friend. “Old times. You’re a baby, Tee. Shut your mouth.”

He gives her a smile over his glass. “Got you something, though.” He fishes around in a pocket awkwardly with his left hand before closing his fist on something and holding the closed fist out to her. She opens her hand underneath his and feels a cool weight drop into it. At first sight, it’s a smooth ring, completely unmarked. “Diamond on the inside. Casts Revivify when the wearer needs it.” She narrows her eyes at him. “Never in a hundred years could you afford that.” He shakes his head. “Was a smuggler who could, though. She didn’t deserve to have it.” “You’re kidding.” “Wish I was. If it was just contraband, I’d have let it slide. But you know what the laws are like down south, and she was shipping people. Not even just prisoners either.” “Fuck.” “Yeah.”

“Are you sure you want to take more jobs from this new patron of yours? You landed here for two out of three. He throws you at dangerous people.” Tio looks down at the table. “It’s better than the jobs for the gambling halls. That’s squeezing people with problems for gold they don’t have.” “You almost sound like an altruist.” He gives her a lopsided smile. “Pay is better. Equipment too. And that ring really has a clever enchantment. It doesn’t go off if you lose the finger it’s on.” “Okay, still not an altruist then.” “Well, I did give you that ring.” Hesper shakes her head, blows out the candle and grabs her friend by the uninjured arm. “Time for bed.”

Early that afternoon, as the Lantern’s staff stumbles out of bed and assembles over platters of hotcakes, cream and preserves, Hesper presses on. “You keep taking jobs like this, you need access to a real healer. This’ll scar and get stiff. You’re more likely to get injured again.” “Hesp, I swear, none of those god-botherers want to be seen anywhere near hellspawn like me. You know how it is.” “Bullshit, Tee, you’re bigoted.” “You can’t be a bigot about other people’s opinions.” “You know what I mean.”

From across the long trestle table, kohl-rimmed dwarven eyes stare at the tiefling and his friend. “My brother Damien would help you, as long as you didn’t, like, sacrifice to Asmodeus in front of him.” Tio arches an eyebrow. “Graz’zt, actually. Great-great-grandmother was a daughter of his.” Now Hesper really does kick him. He winces. “The little shit means to say he’s interested, and would like to know where to find your brother. Don’t believe him if he ever tells you that this ancestor was a princess, either. All tieflings claim a “princess” as their evil ancestor. Pretentious twerps, the lot.” Tio rolls his eyes. “Sure. Whatever she says. I’m Tio. Pleased to meet you, new girl.” “It’s Ingfrid. And my brother Damien lives at the sanctuary of Chauntea.” “Hm.” “You should go see him.”

The next time Tio shows up to see Hesper, he speaks of a new friend. And he didn’t bleed all over Polly’s old store room.

Skullport Shakedown: Moving Pieces

Flamerule 1 (Founder’s Day), Waterdeep, Halfway Inn, Brother’s Barkeeper Charity Chess Tournament

A carefully manicured hand with glassy nails moved to the earth level of the dragon chess board and nudged a white warrior piece forward. “So, how are the book sales these days?”

The human wizard smiled at his opponent and moved a black basilisk piece on the lower level. “Not bad, really. There was that… unfortunate happenstance at the docks some time back, which caused a modest increase in demand.”

A soft chuckle and another white warrior slides gently forward. “One orc’s death is another orc’s breath, I do suppose.”

He cocks an eyebrow as the black sylph finds a new home on the upper level of the board. “That’s a more poetic translation than I usually hear. Not a common proverb either. Do you count the orcs among your friends?”

A smile reveals slightly pointed teeth. “There are many orcs. Certainly a few would consider me such.” A third white warrior moves. “One caravan master told me that whenever she and I go out on the town, she has a very wicked time.” Bright red eyes crinkle at the pun.

Volothamp considers his options. The tiefling who drew lots against him doesn’t seem overly concerned with the moves he had made thus far, and he had preferred a standard opening sequence. Maybe he could pull off the Stone Thief’s Mate. It would be a quick way out. He positions the black dwarf in preparation. No alarm shows on the face at the other side of the table. An amateur then, most likely. “Wicked, no less.” he says, “That’s something, from those who drink fermented warg’s milk with their morning porridge.”

They pick up the pace of their play. White Oliphant. Second black Basilisk. White unicorn. Volothamp makes his penultimate move, nudging the black Sylph forward again, face neutral.

His opponent’s head dips, tipping a dark curl forward from behind a slim, pale antler. “Fermented warg’s milk…” he shudders. “Personally I prefer southern brandy. Even the product of our beloved local Chauntea sanctuary, which is probably just distilled novice sweat, is vastly superior to that.” Eyes still down, the tiefling lifts his hand towards the middle board, then pauses, sending a pupilless glance up from under curls and eyebrows. “That said. A drink?” He pulls out the Paladin piece and drops it to the lower board, beckoning over one of the ale boys with his free hand.

Time to recalculate. The Paladin’s Counter wasn’t the strongest response to his manoeuvre, but it was a clever one. Effective. Profoundly noncommittal in response to his own decisiveness. Held until the last possible moment, too. He stretched in his seat. This could yet be an interesting game.

Two glasses of brandy later, with the game’s end a decently engaging victory, Volo finds himself lingering at the bar to await the drawings for the third round of the tournament. The slight tiefling leans back beside him, a booted leg stretched out into the walkway. “Shame to find such a strong opponent this early on. I could have used the prize money.”

The wizard smiles. “This is where I might offer to keep an ear to the ground for any interesting opportunities. However, knowing neither your name nor your trade, I am afraid you have me at a disadvantage. Yourself too, perhaps, if it turns out we could be of use to one another.”

The tiefling extends a hand. “Tio. Sometimes I work with local guilds to follow up on accounts. See if things can’t be resolved… harmoniously. Beyond that, well, it is said that I like to entertain.”

Fate’s Chosen: the end

Nong awakens in a dark room with a small dais and throne on top of it; the throne, crimson red, is emanating a dim aura. A shadowed figure sits on top and beckons Nong to approach. Nong approaches the throne and recognizes the figure, it is the great Azmodeus. The monk feels impelled to look down at his feet, for there is some force in the room that makes Nong uncomfortable looking directly at the god.
“What is your wish, Nong Sung Roc?”
It takes a moment for Nong to register what is said to him, but then he realizes Azmodeus is upholding his part of the bargain, how very lawful,
“Um…my wish is for us to be, wait. My wish is for my comrades, no! My wish is for my three comrades, Mordrock, Royce, Naismith and I…to be set free from Glasya’s contract and return to live in Waterdeep.”
“Is that truly your wish?”
The monk pauses for a moment, confused by the question. He hopes what he is asking for cannot be swindled; for devils are known to do such things with their deals.
“Yes, that is my wish.”
“Very well, I can fulfill your wish as you please,” responds Azmodeus who lifts his right hand, circles it in front of him while speaking an incantation; Nong feels nothing as a result of Azmodeus’s action.
“Well then it is done. Be on your way and thank you once again for saving the Book of Keeping.”

Nong feels a strange sensation all over his body as he begins to evaporate into thin air. He looks up for a moment to see the shadowed figure on the throne, wave good-bye to him.

Royce and Mordrock appear on the bank of the River Styx. They look around in horror as they watch poor souls skewered and plucked out of the water and into soul carts.
“We are damned now!”
“This looks like Hell. We have died and gone to Hell to serve Glasya.”
“What is the last thing you remember?”
“The Positive plane, holding my breath, then seconds later exploding…then darkness.”
“About the same as you.”

Moments later they hear a small voice, “Welcome to Hell!” as Bedichiah greets them. The two clerics stare back at the imp, unsure what to say as neither finds this place welcoming. Bedichiah explains to them the journey ahead and how their friend, Naismith has already settled in. They set off for the long journey to Glasya’s palace. When they arrive, Glasya greets them similarly with a toast to shared goals,
“Welcome to home, my clerics. Here let us toast to meeting shared goals!”
Royce and Mordrock each salute and drink, even though neither feels the urge to consume a beverage after that long journey.
“So tell me, what have you been doing without your friend Naismith? Don’t worry, I’ve kept him busy while he’s been here alone,” says Glasya smiling wickedly at them.

The clerics describe their experience in the Positive plane then the cosmic tug. She perks up in her throne as Royce describes the Book of Keeping.
“And then we tried to run and the next thing was both of us were gone from the palace and returned to the Positive plane.”
“Yeah, we died quickly after that I believe.”
“You FOOLS! Where is the book now? Why did you not give it Azmodeus?”
An uncomfortable silence unfolds as the two clerics realize the impact of their decision in relation to who they are talking to.

Glasya, now scowling and frustrated, pauses and tilts her head in thought. She then relaxes back into her throne and waits; she glares back at Royce and Mordrock but cuts them off before they say anything in response. Moments later, Nong walks into the room,
“What the hell are we still doing here? That damn devil screwed me!”
“Nong, please approach me. I want to learn what happened to the Book of Keeping after these two,” as she points to Royce and Mordrock, “disappeared from the palace.”

Nong calms down for a moment, acknowledges his comrades, and approaches Glasya. He describes to her what happened and where the book ended up. Mordrock can sense Glasya’s mood shift to a lighter note; she even begins to nod back at Nong as if she’s actually listening to the monk.

For the first hundred years, the Drow’s Bane work together as en elite strike force, going on dangerous missions in their duty to Glaysa. Nong leads the party, followed by Naismith with Royce and Mordrock assigned to the lowest rank. Nong never lets go of his anger against Azomodeus but under Glasya’s contract, he is compelled to do what he is told to do. The majority of their time is spent outside of the Hells, as a way to ensure their death is only temporary. Towards the beginning of their two hundredth year, changes start to occur. Their alignment shifts towards lawful evil and their appearance begins to take on more diabolic features. In fact, every time they die outside of Hell and are resurrected in Malbolge, they re-appear slightly more fiendish looking.

By year four hundred, they have become great pit fiends who command their own strike forces; all four strike forces have been assigned to infiltrate Thanatos, the plane of Orcus, to assassinate the Prince of Undeath. It takes many attempts to penetrate into Orcus’s palace to kill him, but they succeed in their mission in the six hundred sixty sixth year of their service to Glasya. Royce cuts off the head of Orcus and they return to Malbolge in triumph.

Back in Malbolge, a celebration to award the leaders of the Drow’s Bane strike forces, the greatest medal of achievement begins. Glasya, standing next to the head of Orcus, recites a prayer and asks Nong, Naismith, Royce and Mordrock to kneel. The great pit fiends notice Glasya has her priests with her today, and watch as each priest takes a stand behind each pit fiend. Glasya walks around an anoints each pit fiend with a liquid, whose smell, makes Nong, Naismith, Royce and Mordrock relaxed and sleepy. Glasya finishes reciting her prayer as her voice crescendos over the crowd. When this is heard, each priest draws a ceremonial dagger and quickly slits the throat of their kneeling pit fiend. Immediately, Nong, Naimsith, Royce and Mordrock open their eyes wide with rage as they grab hold of their throat, unable to stop the bleeding gushing out. Each stares up at Glasya in shock and horror as she looks down at them and smiles, then says, “We are done here. You have been given the greatest honor of all.”

The last image the pit fiends see before their eyes close forever, is the Lady of the Sixth exiting the room, holding the head of Orcus.

Nong, Naismith, Royce and Mordrock each awake in a room filled with bright light. Each sees himself lying on a bed, in blankets that are warm and comfy. Each inhales and smells a fragrance that offers a feeling of peace, which is a strange feeling that has not been felt in a very long time. A knock his heard at a door that leads into this room. For Nong, a figure in white monk garments enters and beckons him to come forth; for Royce and Mordrock, each sees a figure wearing robes of their deity; for Naismith, the being is Jimjar, who smiles and takes Naismith’s hand. Each guide says a similar thing to the awakened hero,

“Come, walk with me now down the path.”

Nong, Naismith, Royce and Mordrock, now appear along a path they begin to walk down alongside their guide. The scenery is so beautiful and tranquil that each hero begins to feel ashamed, as if they are not worthy of being in such a pristine place. They glance at their hands, then touch their faces and body and feel nothing that resembles a pit fiend; in fact, they feel like their previous selves which feels so odd. The memories of the past six hundred sixty six years flood their minds and each hero breaks down with unrelenting sobs of shame, that they are not able to remain standing. Each guide turns and looks down, smiles, and picks each hero up and carries them forward,

“Let it out brave one, it is okay. You are where you truly belong now.”

As each guide turns on the path, the hero feels a strong warmth emanate from beyond that causes them to stop crying and look up.

Royce sees Tempus.

Naismith sees Tymora.

Mordrock sees Kelemvor.

Nong sees Brother Taliq.

Tempus, Tymora, Kelemvor and Brother Taliq, smile and extend their arms ready to receive a hug, “Welcome home my hero.”

T H E E N D

Fate’s Chosen: the decision

The first thing Naismith hears are the screams of souls, who have washed ashore, being plucked out and thrown into large soul carts by unforgiving devils with pitchforks. Naismith glances around and takes in the deep reddish hue of the sky, that so eerily compliments the blood red water of the river Styx. “So this is the end then,” he tells himself, waiting to be skewered like the rest of them. Except no devil pays attention to the lonely rogue standing on the river bank; they move pass him as if he’s not there. Naismith sighs, wishing he gave into the cosmic tug, but is grateful for his sacrifice because he sensed the wand explode in the Positive plane. He is quite surprised however, to have ended up in Avernus when his soul was supposed to transfer into the Ring of Mind Shielding. He ponders this some more, “I should have put that ring in Royce’s pocket and then I would be with him right now! If the Positive plane dissolved an artifact, my poor little ring never stood a chance.”

“There you are!” says a little voice from behind the rogue. Naismith turns around and sees the little imp, Bedichiah. “Hello Bedichiah, I guess you are here for me,” bemoans Naismith as he looks down at the tattoo still branded to his arm. “Yes, I am here for you. I’m your escort to Malbolge. Come, let’s get out of this pedestrian place,” smiles the imp who proceeds to fly past Naismith.

Mordrock and Royce hear coughing near them as their eyes slowly adjust from blackness to a lighted blur. They inhale, surprised they can breathe in air, and stir from their prone position.
“Where are we?”
“Are we alive?”
“I don’t know.”
“The last I remember was holding onto the wand and feeling it explode. I felt the pieces pierce into my flesh.”

Then a stern voice between coughs responds to them, “Clerics, you are alive thanks to me.” Mordrock and Royce focus in on a large angel, holding his wounded side, staring back at them.
“My name is Azmael, and I need your help. Wait, I was told there were four of you, why are there only two now?”
Royce reaches for his sword and begins to cast. “Wait, do not cast! I’m a solar of Tyr and I have brought you here by way of Jimjar.”
“Jimjar?! What does he have to do with this?”
“Naismith our comrade follows Jimjar. I thought he would be here with us now, but he’s not.”
“This is very ironic,” says Azmael as he looks the two clerics over one more time.
“Jimjar informed me what your group was up to and from the looks of it, I believe you succeeded in your mission. I have used a very taxing chronomancy spell to pull you from your time line to mine. Because of this, we don’t have a lot of time as I can’t concentrate on this spell forever. I will have to send you back to your timeline eventually.”

Mordrock and Royce look at each other shocked to hear what Azmael is telling them. A look of surprise springs to their eyes as they imagine a world without the wand of Orcus. Azmael picks himself up and leans on his greatsword while still applying pressure to a gash down his side. Mordrock and Royce notice the solar is quite wounded and realize how spent they both are, in terms of spells.
“Azmael, we are quite taxed and need rest. Plus, we can resurrect both of our comrades tomorrow as well. We just need a good night’s sleep.”
Azmael hears this but realizes he does not have such time to spare, “I’m sorry I cannot give you the time you require. That time would jeopardize why I need your help. You shall have four hours to rest. Make do with that.” The solar pauses and then says, “But I do need more than just two of you, I fear. Let me consider this,” and he begins to limp away.

Bedichiah and Naismith journey for a long time crossing through the second, third, fourth, fifth planes of Hell before they arrive into Malbolge. Naismith is surprised his energy kept up through the entire trek and the thought of food or drink never crossed his mind. Eventually they arrive at their destination, the palace of Glasya. Naismith is taken to a large room, where the arch devil herself lounges from an immaculate bone throne, being waited on by several staff.
Glasya watches as the rogue is brought to her. She flicks her wrist at her servant before turning and glaring down at Naismith, “Welcome to home, Naismith,” she says to him with a wicked grin. Naismith acknowledges Glasya before looking down, unable to respond. Glasya senses the mood and immediately a goblet appears in her hand as a goblet appears before Naismith. She raises it and proclaims, “To accomplishing shared goals!” Naismith drinks from the goblet and just looks around, taking in the large room.
“Where are the others Naismith? Why just you now?”
“I do not know my lady. We destroyed the wand of Orcus together but maybe somehow they survived the Positive plane?”
“I highly doubt that.”
There is a pause in the room before Glasya responds, “Very well then. I have the pleasure of just you right now all to myself,” as she eyes the rogue as a potential concubine. She motions for Bedichiah, who acknowledges his lady and escorts Naismith out of the room. Naismith hears from behind him, “Relax my champion. Take some time to unwind and get to know the place. I think you will fit in quite nicely. Don’t worry, I have something in mind for you to do soon…”

“What happened to Anarchocles’s spirit? He is no longer with you?”
“I don’t know. He was there holding the wand with me. Maybe with the wand destroyed, he can now rest and no longer needs me as his host.”
“Wait! I hear something approaching.”
Azmael appears before Mordrock and Royce and tosses something at their feet; the wounded solar is looking a bit better after four hours. “Here, this can help the situation given the time constraint. Choose wisely.”

Mordrock picks up the scroll, opens it and reads it. “It is a scroll of True Resurrection. But we only have one so…we have to choose.” Royce scowls upon hearing this but realizes one is better than none. They settle on Nong, knowing a bit more on where he is in the multiverse, over Naismith. Mordrock casts from the scroll, calling forth Nong to appear. Momentarily, their half-orc monk companion materializes before them, alive and naked. It takes Nong a moment to come to his senses; he flexes his hands, moves his feet and breathes. A slight joy comes to his face as he realizes, he’s alive again.
“Nong, you are back! Welcome back!”
“I missed you guys. Thank you. By the way, where are my clothes?”
“Uh…I don’t know.”
“Oh, I think Naismith has them. He undressed your zombie body before we went to the Positive plane to destroy the wand.”
“OK. Where’s Naismith then?”
“We don’t know. He didn’t come with us to this place. I’m sorry.”
Nong looks down at his body, sees everything is there, and shrugs. Then realizes there’s someone else in the room and turns to Azmael, “Who the hell are you?”
Azmael glares at Nong and says, “the one who enabled you to return to life, mortal.”

Azmael moves toward the group and begins to explain his need. The solar recently learned a Yugoloth general discovered the whereabouts of a Book of Keeping. This powerful artifact contains the true names of many devils and demons; whoever wields the book, controls the fiends. The book lies in the Astral Plane inside a dead god’s dream. The dead god is Valigan, a god of chaos who was struck down by Tyr’s arrow. Azmael and his army attacked the general and his army. The general significantly wounded Azmael but the solar proved stronger and captured the general. Azmael is unable to travel into the dead god’s dream in his current state and needs the party to do so for him. At the same time, fiends loyal to the general and fiends loyal to Azmodeus, are hunting for the book too. The party needs to act quickly before they are discovered.

Mordrock, Royce and Nong acquiesce to Azmael’s request, even though they are unsure what is in it for them at this point. Azmael grabs their hands and teleports them to the Bridge of Dreams; the entry point into Valigan’s dream state. The three cross over the bridge toward the huge figure, with eyes closed and a gigantic arrow piercing his head; the arrow’s tip protruding from the forehead. They enter the dream state and locate several dream copies of the book, while fighting off nightmarish guardians and spectral visions from Valigan’s dreams. They eventually obtain all dream copies of the book without suffering too much psychic damage or indefinite madness. The combined copies reveal the true location of the Book of Keeping. When they fetch the real book, they hear Azmael in their minds warning them that fiends are crossing over the bridge en route to the party’s location. The party is forced to fight many fiends en route back to Azmael.

Azmael teleports them back to his palace except a yugoloth and a devil manage to teleport with them; instant homing beacons for their respective armies. Azmael, who is looking stronger now, dispatches the unwanted guests and reassures the party he can be a force for change much needed in the multiverse by accepting the book. The solar explains how he was a chosen of Tyr until Ao put Tyr’s eye out in a great battle. Azmael could not comprehend Tyr’s decision to accept his punishment, so he left Tyr and traveled the planes forging his own legend.

Azmael moves deeper into his palace, with the party in tow. They move into a grand ballroom with gold plated ornate columns and stained glass windows depicting Tyr’s glory and Azmael’s victories. The solar describes to them how he captured the yugoloth general and persuaded the fiend to join his cause. When the general refused, Azmael tortured him until the location of the book was revealed. The party sees beyond Azmael, a large cage made of force energy with sparkling sigils surrounding it; a large yugoloth in dark plate mail sits motionless inside. The general slightly inclines its head toward Mordrock, who is carrying the book, and acknowledges his success.

While Azmael is talking, Royce, Nong and Mordrock give the stained glass windows a second look and notice something odd. Upon closer inspection, the scenes could be interpreted as ridiculing Tyr, not praising his glory and justice. They also hear in the distance, sounds of breaking through doors and crashing windows, alerting them that the fiendish armies have penetrated the palace’s defenses.

Azmael, now with a determined expression on his face, moves in front of the cage, turns to the party, and says,
“My friends, you are the true heroes of your world and your names will never be forgotten. What you did here, what you’ve helped to facilitate, will change… everything. The ‘balance’ between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ is just wrong. It’s a corruption of the worst kind, one that hides behind a so-called justice. Only, the justice is blind – and it cannot afford to be!  But I –we- can now start the process of change. We can be the force of real justice in the world – with the army of yugoloth behind us, and perhaps even wielding the power over powerful lords of Hell! The book you have retrieved offers all this, and more!”

Azmael reaches out his hand toward the party at the same time they telepathically hear the general speak to them,
“If you are half as competent as the solar makes you to be, you won’t believe a word he says. Or perhaps you didn’t notice my wounds?  Oh, I assure you this little torturing project was nothing, compared to the ‘justice’ he executed while travelling the planes. Kingdoms fell, cities burned, children died.  He dreams of a perfect society, of all-encompassing heavens, but that would be just another form of tyranny, where he would make all the rules. The book should belong to the yugoloth and yugoloth only, THAT would be true justice. We were created and enslaved against our wishes – where is justice in that? Destroy the astral energy siphon on the balcony over there, free me, and give the book to me – and I’ll be in your debt.”

The sound of an explosion is heard from behind as the doors to the grand ballroom are blown open. Yugoloths and devils fighting each other flow into the room. One devil separates from the fight, looks at Royce, Mordrock and Nong and raises its arms; its eyes begin to glow white and immediately, an apparition of Azomodeus appears near the party,
“Please accept my sincere apologies for not being able to properly participate in this debate. Alas, I have not been invited. However, I am, as you can imagine, very concerned with what is going to occur here. The system we have, the balance and justice work. Yes, we fight with each other, there are sides to join and all that. But do you see worlds in flames? Heavens falling while fiends and celestials battle? No, it’s all in the past now.  The book is too powerful an object to give to a has been angel, or an independent force. Possessing the power over archdevils would overturn the balance of power in the multiverse, a balance so carefully crafted over eons – also by the very gods you might venerate. Give the book to my agent and I will grant each of you a wish.”

Royce, Mordrock and Nong struggle to decide what to do in the seconds they have before being overrun by fiends. Royce argues for Azmael while Mordrock and Nong argue for Azmodeus. In the end, they decide to run. They head toward the balcony, only to hear Azmael scream back at them in anger, “You are fools! Give me the book now!” Immediately, Royce and Mordrock blink out of existence, as Azmael releases his concentration on the chronomancy spell. Nong watches the book drop to the floor where Mordrock was just standing. Confused and shocked Nong reaches for the book. Fortunately for the naked half-orc monk, he is not bound to the chronomancy spell and is still able to act.

Nong sommersaults toward the book, grabbing it mid-roll thereby preventing the nearest yugoloth from victory. He gracefully lands upright, looks at the devil who projected Azomodeus, and throws the book at it. The devil catches the book and takes off running. Azmael screams in fury as he is not fast enough to catch the devil and turns on Nong instead. With rage boiling in his eyes, he draws his greatsword and strikes Nong, separting the monk in two. Nong hits the ground, closes his eyes and breathes his last breath.

The Cult of the Morninglord (or History of the Church, Part One)

Starting a multi-post deep-dive into Barovian religion with an overview of the Morninglord might have been the smart approach, but I can’t say that much planning went into deciding to write these posts. Instead, this is not part one as I already started this research with a dive into St Andral, but there will hopefully be more on the Morninglord to follow, and who am I to pass up a chance to reference Mountain Goats deep cuts?

Any Realms-savvy dungeon master or player will recognize and connect the title and symbols of the Morninglord to Lathander, the Forgotten Realms’ god of the dawn, the god of beginnings, of spring, birth, and renewal (SCAG p. 32).

We’ve already learned how the Cult of the Morninglord (CotM) supplanted the worship of Andral in Barova. Andral’s worship had died out in the 4th century, Barovian Calendar, but the CotM would not arrive for at least another century.

The worship of the morninglord came from the confused memories of an outlander (i.e not from Barovia/Ravenloft) child saved from Strahd von Zarovich by the elf vampire Jander Sunstar.

We learn from the 3.5E Ravenloft Player’s Handbook (2005) that

The Cult of the Morninglord was born late in the fifth century, after the faith’s founder claimed that when he was a young boy, the Morninglord appeared to him in physical form and protected him from the roaming menaces of the Barovian night.

(p. 67)

This boy’s name and more of his history is detailed in the Ravenloft Gazetteer Vol 1.

One morning in 475 BC, a young outlander boy named Martyn Pelkar stumbled out of the Svalich Woods. Few could predict that the boy’s ramblings about his salvation at the hands of a “golden morning lord” would spawn a cult that somehow made inroads in the hearts of the naturally suspicions and cynical Baroivans.

Ravenloft Gazetteer Vol I, p. 18
An early symbol of the morning lord. A round sunlike symbol drawn on a stained and torn parchment resembling a styalized sun over a road.
The Symbol of the Morninglord, from the Ravenloft Player’s Handbook (3.5E, 2005)

The story seems to go that the boy was in fact saved by Jander Sunstar, the sun elf vampire featured in Vampire of the Mists— the story is not so explicitly told in any of the source books I read, but appears to happen in that novel per a citation in the page for the Morninglord on Mistipedia, a Ravenloft Wiki.

The mantle was eventually picked up from Martyn “the Mad” Pelkar by his first acolyte, Sasha Petrovich, and they gathered a congregation at the “Sanctuary of the Blessed Succor” in the Village of Barovia (Gazetteer I, p. 24). Sasha (aka Alexi) is another character featured in Vampire of the Mists.

The Gazetteer goes on to describe how the center of worship moved to Vallaki and then to Krezk forming the cult’s largest center of worship, the Sanctuary of First Light (what would become the Abbey of St. Markovia in 5E, yet another subject for another day).

The Gazetteer gives us the greatest picture of the worship of the Morninglord, so it is disappointing to find it out of print, even on the Dungeon Master’s Guild and Drive Through RPG, where many of the older Ravenloft books (including the Sword & Sorcery 3.5E Player’s Handbook) are available as PDF and/or for print-on-demand.

It seems poor Martyn combined his Lathander catechism with the sun-elf form of Sunstar to create a sort of bastardized, Ravenloft-specific variation to the Faerun god of the dawn. The promise of a salvation and the end of the darkness became a small beacon of hope for just enough Barovians that the cult was able to establish a foothold, and ultimately enough of a following in Barovia. The Ravenloft Player’s Handbook (3.5E) touches on the “Unspoken Agreement” between deities and the Dark Powers of Ravenloft, and how the absence (or at least distance) of deities can lead to “theological shifts” and divergence in the faith and tenants of a god’s followers between the material planes and the lands within the mists (p. 64).

Out-of-game, if product licensing had been a little different for Sword & Sorcery, the Player’s Handbook and Gazetteers might have been that much more explicit about names for the Ravenloft Pantheon— instead alluding to similar symbols and epithets without name-dropping a Forgotten Realms™ name like Bane or Lathander— an interesting sidestep also seen when comparing Critical Role’s 2017 Tal’Dorei Campaign Guide to the Wizards of the Coast-published Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount (2020).

There is more to the story presented in the Gazetteers that didn’t make it into Curse of Strahd that bears interest, including a “secret society” of undead hunters within the church known as The Dawnslayers, followers of Sasha Petrovich’s legacy dedicated to destroying undead, and vampires in particular (Gazetteer I, p. 24). The legacy of the Dawnslayers would make for an interesting chapter with a cleric or paladin of the Morninglord in Curse of Strahd, but I feel I may have missed the boat for that in my current campaign, as I don’t know that we will be returning to Krezk this late in the story, and I think I’d rather spent the time with the Keepers of the Feather and their worship of Andral.

I couldn’t find much more about The Morninglord (Church OR Cult) in the 2E “Red Box” source books or the later Domains of Dread, noting only that according to Domains and Denizens, “Barovians do not frequent their churches, for they feel that the gods have abandoned them” (p. 8). Both Domains of Dread and the 3.5E books also discuss the Cult of the Morninglord’s following among the Gundarakites, ethnic natives of Gundarak, a valley adjacent to Barovia that Strahd conquered following the Grand Conjunction (Domains of Dread, p. 59, Gazetteer I, p. 24). Because Gundarak, and really, any domain beyond Barovia, is excised from Curse of Strahd, that aspect of the church didn’t factor into my research, but might be an interesting thread to follow were one to expand Barovia from Curse of Strahd‘s three villages to a larger setting drawing from the previous editions.


References

Curse of Strahd (5E, 2016)
Domains of Dread (2E, 1997)
Domains and Denizens (“Red Box”, 2E, 1994)
Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount (2020)
“The Morninglord” Mistipeida: A Ravenloft Wiki. Accessed 2020-04-21.
Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide (5E, 2015)
Ravenloft Gazetteer Vol I (3.5E, 2002)
Ravenloft Player’s Handbook (3.5E, 2005)
Tal’Dorei Campaign Guide (2017)


Fate’s Chosen: the gate

Sithka takes a deep breath and focuses on the surrounding environment to keep it from breaking apart in the churning chaos of Limbo. Feeling deeply distraught about her crew and ship, she reflects for a moment until she notices the tall spirit man who occupies the dwarf’s body, pick up the wand. She glances at the fortress and then back at the dead half-orc zombie; what a mess she thinks to herself.

Naismith exits the fortress, and moves to collect Kendall’s robe of stars; he then moves toward Zombie Nong’s body, undresses it and gathers his comrade’s belongings. Royce exits the fortress and looks at Sithka with a solemn face; he casts Tongues on himself and says to her,
“We are truly sorry for your crew and ship, Sithka. We did not expect the battle with Orcus to be here. We figured we would meet him in the Abyss.”
Sithka simply nods and responds, “My duty as githzerai is to protect my home, so this invasion was less about you and more about serving my calling. Nevertheless, if you were not here, that battle would not have happened.”
Royce looks down recognizing the truth in Sithka’s words.
“Royce, the fortress is on top of the key, which I already activated so it cannot be undone. Without more githzerai, I cannot complete the task. I need to return to Shra’kt’lor for more crew and another citadel. In the meantime I will show you and Mordrock how to maintain the stabilization of this environment.”

Royce dismisses the fortress as Sithka begins to teach Royce and Mordrock how to will their minds to keep the surrounding environment intact; the feeling is familiar to them, like concentrating on a spell. However, Royce is the only one who seems to master the technique which keeps him completely focused for the next few hours. Sithka draws a circle on the ground, casts a spell, and teleports away. Mordrock and Naismith notice that pieces of the rock beyond their current location begin to break apart, separate and transform. Both look at each other, concerned how much time they have left on the ground beneath them.

Naismith spends the next few hours resting and attuning to the Ring of Mind Shielding; he thinks he may put the ring’s ability to store his soul to good use, if things go awry in the Positive plane. He stares up at Anarchocles and takes a moment to digest what stands before him and then speaks out to the hero,
“Anarchocles, I can take hold of the wand, it cannot speak to me now that I possess this ring. You do not have to endure it any more.”
Anarchocles slowly turns to Naismith and stares at him before shaking his head, “No. The wand is my burden now and I must bathe it in the Positive plane. It will stay with me until then.”

Mordrock wills Anarchocles to sit down by Naismith and share with the group how he came to be and where he was prior to this. The mighty hero acquiesces and begins to tell his story. His story of the battle between Orcus and himself, fits the legend perfectly. When he was slain, Orcus trapped his spirit in a blood ruby and tormented him for a millennia. He made Anarachocles’s spirit feel the decapitation of his head, the exposure of his skull and the attachment to the wand. Anarchocles endured the pain from the necrotic energy Orcus used to bind his skull to the wand to craft the wand of Orcus. When Orcus was defeated in the Underdark, the Prince of Undeath’s essence returned to Thanatos to begin restoration. During this time, a squad of Kelemvor’s angels attacked Orcus’s lair, pried out the blood ruby from the throne, and bound it to Mordrock; none of the squad survived but they did complete their mission. Orcus nor the wand, knew what happened to the gem until Mordrock swallowed it and set Anarchocles free.
“And when I re-appeared today, thanks to Mordrock, I felt for a second fear from Orcus as he was completely surprised by this.”
Anarchocles pauses and then says to the group, “For you to have carried the wand all that time until here, is a testament of your endurance and personal responsibility to protect the multiverse from a great evil. You as well, are legendary.”

Naismith looks away toward the body of Zombie Nong.

Royce is the first to see another githzerai citadel approach what is now just a small island surrounding the group; a fraction of the rock formation remaining since Sithka departed. Royce, who is sweating and trembling from the concentration, feels the tension in his mind subside enabling him to relax and let go; he’s confident the githzerai on the ship have it now under control. Sithka and crew float down to the area and head toward the key that is partly submerged in the ground. She nods to Royce in appreciation and motions the Drow’s Bane over to her. The githzerai arrange themselves in a circle around the key and begin to concentrate. The key lights up again, begins to alter its shape and transforms into a gateway. The gateway activates and a bright light emanates from within, to reveal the Positive plane on the other side.

Sithka informs Royce that she can hold the gate open for about a minute. Royce tells the others and they prepare to enter. Anarchocles moves first through the portal. He is instantly blinded by the plane and Mordrock instinctively holds his breath from the lack of air; Naismith and Royce follow next. The rogue uses his blindsense to detect where Anarchocles and Royce are; he senses Anarchocles is struggling to keep the wand from thrashing about. He reaches out and grabs hold of Anarchocles’s hand to reaffirm the hero’s grip. When Naismith does this, a familiar dream appears in his mind. He remembers seeing Tymora’s silhouette in a bright light reassuringly nod to the rogue; the image calms Naismith allowing him to sense where Royce is and bring him closer toward the group.

Half a minute goes by and Naismith senses the wand is full of spider cracks and small chips in the skull are beginning to break away. With everyone holding their breath, no one can verbally guide the others so Naismith keeps his hand firm on Anarchocles’s hand. A minute goes by, and the party begins to feel discombobulated from the radiant energy penetrating their entire bodies. The wand is now severely cracked throughout and maybe a few seconds more, is all they need to destroy it. Naismith remembers Sithka holding the gate open, but immediately dismisses that thought; he always believed this was going to be a one way journey anyway.

One minute, eighteen seconds go by and the wand is exploding at the same time Naismith, Royce and Mordrock feel a cosmic pull on their beings; a feeling very familiar to each of them, like being pulled back from death. The choice is Now or Never…

Royce gives into the pull.

Mordrock gives into the pull.

Naismith resists the pull.

The wand explodes in the Positive plane causing the Wand of Orcus to be eternally destroyed forever in this timeline. The legendary Drow’s Bane succeed in their destiny! Huzzah!!!

Royce sees darkness.

Mordrock sees darkness.

Naismith awakes on the banks of the river Styx, in Avernus; the first layer of Hell.

Fate’s Chosen: audentes fortuna iuvat (“fortune favors the bold”)

Devils of all shapes and sizes spew out of crimson portals, screaming infernal battle cries: narzugons on infernal steeds charge past the Drow’s Bane and collide with death knights on their nightmares; pit fiends and amnizus fly out and lock onto dracoliches and their riders. Hellfire engines, last to emerge, slowly move out and position themselves ready to unload their deadly cannons upon Orcus’s army.

The War of the Wand has officially begun.

Orcus lets out an abyssal charge to his second in command, the molydeus, to take down Anarchocles now! The huge two headed beast moves to engage the legendary hero’s corporal form; it lets out a battle cry as it swings its gigantic battleaxe striking Anarchocles across the chest. The fiend follows through with a bite from his wolf head and another from his serpent head; both connect with their target. Mordrock feels the pain and also hears the thoughts of Anarchocles, who grips tighter his Rod of Lordly Might as he responds with a vicious blow to the wolf head.

Nong, who is engaged with Orcus, continues to pummel the Prince of Undeath unleashing everything he’s got. Each time Nong swings, Orcus returns with a tail swing. Then Orcus points his wand at Nong, utters a command and a swirling necrotic vortex forms around the monk. Nong realizes he is in a bad predicament as a large skeletal hand flies from Orcus’s wand, causing major necrotic damage to Nong; the skeletal hand hangs off of Nong hindering his ability to heal himself too. The monk is quick to flee the vortex by running across the battlefield towards his comrades. However this does not stop Orcus, who is unrelenting; he continues to cast more skeletal hands that fly across the battlefield and slice through Nong.

Kendall’s dracolich flies past Royce and Naismith and they notice Kendall is not riding it. The huge dracolich drops onto the ground near them, projecting a fierce frightening aura. Unfortunately, the aura does not affect the party thanks to last night’s Heroes Feast.
“Royce, be on the look out for Kendall. He has disappeared again and that means trouble. I don’t sense him near me either.”
“Watch out Naismith!”
Naismith dodges the great maw of the dracolich, somersaulting just in time. Naismith follows up with a jump to the top of the great undead beast and slashes away; the dracolich roars out in pain from the deep wound. Royce strikes next causing radiant energy from Dawn Bringer to rip a gash down the dracolich’s side. The huge beast flaps its wings in response, drawing its large body up into the air, causing a mighty current to knock Royce down.

“Royce watch out!!” screams Mordrock.

The molydeus lifts a huge molten rock with its mind and drops it on top of both clerics. The pain from the weight and molten lava is punishing. Royce responds by attempting to cast a healing spell, only to be countered. He looks around and sees no one responsible for this act. “Damn You Kendall!” screams Royce. Naismith runs past Sithka who finishes casting a spell that instantly engulfs her in a protective globe of energy. “Sithka, use your citadel! We need everything we can get now,” as Naismith points to the citadel. Sithka acknowledges the rogue, even though she does not understand him and vanishes into thin air.

Naismith runs behind one of the Hellfire cannons to catch his breath. He feels a tingling sensation all over his body as the plane of Limbo transforms before his eyes into a giant maze. At the same time, fifty feet in the air, four Kendalls appear from casting a spell. Naismith glances around the labyrinth and remembers a similar description from Nong, who could not escape for an entire fight. “Jimjar, please give me some luck here!” as he concentrates on re-imagining Limbo. Today, luck is on his side as he manages to overcome the image and will himself back onto the plane of Limbo. He pops back onto the battlefield as the scowling four Kendalls look down at him in anger.

The rogue leaps up and flies close by the Kendalls, however, the rogue is not fast enough to strike before the four Kendalls succeed in banishing him back to his home plane. Naismith blinks into existence in the Dock Ward of Waterdeep. “What happened? Why am I…in Waterdeep? NO! This can’t be happening, not now!! Damn you Kendall!” Fear races across his mind as he grabs his necklace,
“Sithka, Sithka! Help Me! I’ve been banished back to Waterdeep in the Dock Ward. Please, you must help me get back to Limbo.”
Moments later he hears Sithka respond, “Naismith, this can’t be. I just positioned the citadel over the battlefield. I’m channeling all of my power into it now. Hold on, I think I know how to get you back.”
Sithka throws the controls over to her comrade and yells back at another to follow her. They run through the citadel, toward a summoning chamber. She races to the center of the room, grabs hands with her comrade, and casts Plane Shift.

Pop! Sithka and her comrade appear over the Dock Ward in Waterdeep. They hover in the air looking for Naismith as surprised Waterdhavians on the dock start pointing up at the githzerai. Sithka’s comrade points down and sees the rogue running toward them. They fly down toward Naismith, grab his hands, then Sithka turns to her comrade,
“Quick, Ansel, get us back to the citadel!”
“Order understood, captain.”

Pop! And the three reappear back in Limbo. However they do not reappear on the citadel, but floating among pieces of a destroyed citadel, at the claws of Kendall’s dracolich, who now sees the group twenty feet away.
“What?! This can’t be. No! My crew!”
“Sithka, the dracolich! Get out of here now!”
The dracolich moves in for a bite, missing Sithka but connecting with Ansel, who screams out in pain as the giant maw severs his body in two.
Naismith jumps across pieces of the destroyed citadel and lands on the dracolich’s head; he furiously slashes away and then flees. The dracolich flies after Naismith and manages to claw and bite him before turning around and flying towards the vulnerable Sithka. Naismith looks up and sees the four Kendalls hovering above him, glaring back at the rogue in bewilderment. The four Kendalls raise there hands and a cone of cold sprays over him.

Anarchocles and Royce continue to strike at the molydeus between lightning attacks from the four Kendalls. The molydeus focuses on Anarchocles, intent on felling the ancient hero’s spirit in duty to his master. Then, the clerics hear Nong cry out as the half-orc gets blasted by a beam of necrotic energy from the wand of Orcus, killing the monk on impact. A deep guttural laugh from Orcus overtakes the battlefield. The Prince of Undeath then points the wand at Nong’s dead body and issues an abyssal command. Moments later, the dead body begins to stir and rise up, now in the form of an undead drooling zombie. Orcus yells out in Common, “Nong my drooling zombie thrall, I command you to eat your comrades’ brains now!” Zombie Nong responds to the command and drags his disfigured body in the direction of the clerics.

There is a look of fear between Mordrock, Royce and Naismith in regards to watching their fallen friend, rise up as a zombie. The good news, is that Zombie Nong is a fraction of his true power, which means he is unable to land a hit on either mighty cleric. Between the mighty rod of Anarchocles, Dawn Bringer and Royce’s spiritual weapon, the clerics manage to take down the molydeus. However, the four Kendalls succeed in taking Naismith down at the same time. Royce is quick to get Naismith back in the fight as the thunderous Prince of Undeath charges toward Anarchocles. The legendary battle between Orcus and Anarchocles ignites for a second time in history. The legendary hero is fast, and Mordrock’s body keeps up, but Orcus is just as mighty, especially wielding the wand.

Mordrock realizes how easily he controls life and death as a cleric and as he dodges Orcus, he strikes Zombie Nong dead. He rushes to the undead body and touches it trying to restore it to natural life. Except, the undead body does not rise up as a living Nong. Only very powerful divine magic can restore an undead body to its original form and bring life to it. But that requires time, and time is not something Mordrock has right now.

The dracolich dives for Sithka and easily swipes both claws at her. Alone, among pieces of her ship and dead comrades, Sithka has few choices to survive. She casts a spherical wall of force around her as a last effort to endure the strength of the dracolich. The wall withstands several strikes, but Sithka realizes it is only a matter of time before she loses her concentration.

Royce looks up to the four Kendalls and attempts to banish them in hopes to turn the tables, but Kendall is quick to notice and counters the attempt. The wizard responds with another lightning spell that lights up Royce.

Royce realizes being in between Orcus, Kendall and eventually the dracolich, they cannot survive for long. The party needs protection and soon. His mind races through idea after idea until he stops, grabs the bag of holding and pulls out Daern’s Instant Fortress. He throws the tiny fortress in the direction of the four Kendalls and Orcus and says the magic word. The fortress transforms into its castle like size clipping Orcus and Kendall in the process; Orcus is pushed back fifteen feet and so is Kendall.
“Quick, get in the fortress now!” screams Royce as he rushes into it, followed by Naismith. Mordrock, however, is too engaged with Orcus to pay attention to the advice.

The battlefield is littered with infernal and abyssal ichor and no side seems to have the upper hand at the moment. But the bold move to unleash Daern’s Instant Fortress, gives advantage to the Drow’s Bane. The fortress provides cover allowing Naismith to shoot down the dracolich moments after its last strike causes Sithka to loose her concentration.

Orcus gets the upper hand with Anarchocles and when the mighty hero and Mordrock fall, the Prince of Undeath stomps on the unconscious body determined to kill it quickly. Royce is quick to intervene with a heal from the fortress window, but Mordrock does not manage to get up before Orcus stomps on his body again causing his eyes to close once more. Orcus is so focused on killing Anarchocles, he does not see Sithka appear near the fortress and cast Reverse Gravity in the direction of the Prince of Undeath and Kendall.

Orcus looses his balance from the spell but manages to grab hold of the ground instead of flying upward, however the four Kendalls are not so lucky and go spinning upward uncontrollably. The opportunity plays into the Drow’s Bane’s hand as Naismith reaches out of the fortress window and successfully casts Faerie Fire on the four Kendalls; and only the real Kendall lights up. As Kendall tries to regain his balance, Naismith lets arrow after arrow fly toward the undead wizard until Kendall eventually stops moving. Moments later, only the robe of stars tumbles to the ground.

Royce seizes the opportunity to get Mordrock back in the fight. The Prince of Undeath cannot regain control of the situation before Royce’s spiritual weapon successfully strikes deep into Orcus’s heart, causing the Prince of Undeath to look out in horror as he collapses to the ground, dead.

Fate’s Chosen: Limbo

There is no gravity in Limbo and the environment is constantly in flux. The Drow’s Bane see before them Sithka’s adamantine citadel among several colliding earth motes, a lightning storm and a swirling vortex that shifts between wind and water every few seconds. This plane is pure chaos.

The party wills themselves forward toward the ship; some catch on faster than others. The citadel’s hatch is open, and inside two githzerai focus on keeping the doors open as they motion the party to enter. Sithka stands in the back, waiting.
“Welcome back, I’m surprised to see you again and am happy you look well.”
Nong acknowledges her as the others acclimate to the ship’s gravity. Royce casts Tongues to understand the gith language.
“Thank you Sithka for hosting us again. It is a pleasure to be in your company once more. Since we last spoke, we have made great strides in our journey to defeat this thing,” as Royce points to the wand resting at Nong’s side.
“We have discovered these two metal plates, the first is a teleportation circle that maps to somewhere in Limbo,” as he hands the first plate to Sithka.
She examines the plate and concludes, “Yes, you are correct. I believe from what I’m seeing, these coordinates are in this vicinity of Limbo and we can easily set a course there.”
“The other plate here, we understand might be a key to a gate, and the key requires significant psychic power to manipulate. This is why we seek your assistance, for the key might unlock a gate to the Positive plane,” says Royce handing Sithka the second plate.
Sithka’s face lights up with curiosity as she examines the second plate, “Fascinating. I will need to study this further before I can answer you on what it is and how to activate it. I do sense this is very old and maybe it is a four dimensional key.”

She motions for her guests to follow her as she escorts them into the citadel to a comfortable room where a meal is nicely presented.
“Please, you can relax here and enjoy some fine cuisine from Limbo,” as she smiles and glances at the food.
“I must study this plate and I will return to you when I have more information.”
“Thank you Sithka, we truly appreciate it.”

Nong quietly requests a place to meditate three hundred feet away from the others and one of the giths obliges.

About four hours goes by before Sithka returns with a few gith by her side. She walks into the room looking confident. She waits until Nong is fetched before she explains her findings.
“You were correct this is a four dimensional key to a gate that opens onto the Positive plane. I will need five of my patrol with me to channel enough psychic energy to activate it and open the gate. I believe we can keep it open for about a minute. Can you accomplish your task within this time?”

Royce and Nong look at each other, unclear on how to answer but figure how much time should it really take to bathe a wand in positive energy?
“Uh, yes we will make it happen with the time you give us.”
“Excellent, how do you plan to protect yourselves? I’ve only had researches spend a few seconds on the plane to gather samples. A minute is quite long and probably very dangerous to your bodies.”

Royce and Nong again look at each other, unclear on how to answer. Sithka picks up on the apprehension and responds, “I see you are not familiar with the environmental hazards of the plane. Very well, we can probably shield you while you cross into the plane, but not for very long. The plane is so bright you will be blinded as soon as you step into it and of course, you will have to hold your breath given there is no air on the plane either. However, the real problem is the radiant energy that fills your body with healing energy until it cannot take anymore. Which results in your body exploding and you die. We obviously don’t want that, so you must be quick with your task.”

Another pregnant pause fills the room before Nong responds, “We heard about the plane’s hostile environment already. We understand this is potentially a suicide mission.”

Royce translates to Naismith and Mordrock about Sithka’s findings.
“What if we figure out a way to use our Caps of Water Breathing to simulate an environment with air, like we could wear glass bowls filled with water in them?” asks Naismith.

The groups spends an hour exploring options with whatever glass containers Sithka has on the ship. They fill them with water, put them on their heads while wearing the Cap of Water Breathing, only to find the water pours out; they next try with sand and hold their breath while the gith focus on converting the sand to water, but the water still empties out. Naismith asks about wax, but the gith have no understanding of what wax is. Eventually, they give up exploring options.

The adamantine citadel arrives near the teleportation circle. Sithka first channels her citadel’s energy to stabilize the surrounding area into a rock formation that should persist for several hours. She, five githzerai and the Drow’s Bane exit the ship and will themselves down to the area.

The rocky ground is littered with pockets of molten lava, caught in mid-transformation, which now sits bowling and spewing among the rock formation; the location is very warm but well lit thanks to the lava pools. Sithka counts her steps and then stops, “Here is the location of the teleportation circle.” She spreads her hands and focuses on the area; the ground lights up with runes that match the runes on the metal plate. She takes out the second plate and lays it down in the circle. She motions to her patrol to grab hands, form a circle, and begin the psychic focus. The Drow’s Bane watch the circle intently.

The metal plate begins to glow. The gith’s psychic energy causes the plate to begin to expand, form into a cylinder, and move.

Naismith and Royce think they hear sounds, like a roar, come from the distance somewhere. Nong notices in the corner of his eye, the forming of a new rock formation extending from where they are, out a thousand or more feet. He looks around but only sees the giths focusing on the key. How is this happening?

Everyone hears a horrible screeching sound above them as a giant cloud fast approaches their location from the extended rock formation. The cloud washes over them and hangs in place, causing the area to become heavily obscured. The gith begin coughing as they inhale the cloud’s poisonous vapors and lose their concentration; they break the circle, cover their mouths and look for an escape, not understanding what just happened or why. The Drow’s Bane begin calling out to the gith and to each other in the impenetrable fog; fortunately for them, they are not affected by the poison thanks to last night’s Heroes’ Feast.

Then, everyone pauses as they focus on the sound coming toward them like a great tidal wave of movement and angry cries. The thousand angry voices penetrate the cloud and flood past the party; the crying is so loud it prevents anyone from hearing anyone else in the chaos.

But that’s not the worst of it.

Everyone is pummeled with cold, spectral hands that wash over them as the cries penetrate their minds. The flood of undeath moves through the cloud overwhelming the gith patrol who immediately succumb to death. Sithka and the Drow’s Bane are tougher, but barely survive the attack. Fear clouds Sithka’s mind as she begins to crawl in any direction to survive another onslaught. Naismith leaps up and flies searching to escape the chaos. As he crests the cloud, he stops in shock.

Several dracoliches with riders, one being Kendall, hoover quietly, staring back at him. He sees beyond the dracoliches, death knights on nightmares who silently glare back at him too. The rogue flies over the cloud in the opposite direction to find more dracoliches with riders; he also catches a glimpse of a huge two-headed fiend wielding a gigantic battleaxe, just standing and watching him. Mordrock manages to escape the cloud next and freezes as he catches the same sight of an army of fiends and undead, quietly staring back at him. The cleric calls out to his comrades at the same time the cloud begins to break away. Royce and Nong watch the cloud lift, but then drop their jaws as the horrific scene beyond, slowly comes into view.

Nong pulls out the wand and gets into a defensive stance as he hears a familiar deep guttural voice laugh inside his head,
“It is time for me to take back my wand Nong Sung Roc. Your death today marks the beginning of your eternity as a drooling mindless zombie forever roaming in my shit!”

The party quickly turns to see the monk let out a cry as the wand he wields, engulfs his hand in necrotic flame, then flies across the battlefield and lands in the palm of the Prince of Undeath. The pain is so severe, Nong falls to his knees clutching his charred hand, looking up and seeing the huge fiend in the back of the battlefield, triumphantly wield the wand of Orcus.

Royce, Naismith and Mordrock see Orcus now too and quickly realize how dangerous this situation has become. They see Nong let out a battlecry, then charge across the battlefield and engage with the Prince of Undeath. Kendall’s dracolich responds next as it lowers its head, opens its mouth and unleashes a lightning bolt that lights up Royce, Mordrock and Naismith. Royce begins casting a healing spell only to be countered by a dracolich rider. Naismith begins casting Faerie Fire only to be countered by Kendall.

Mordrock steps away from the group, pulls out his necklace and swallows it. He feels the crystal go down and then an immense warmth overtake his body. A surge of energy rises up from within the cleric of Kelemvor as the spirit of Anarchocles emerges; the two become one as the spirit of Anarchocles is now anchored to the corporal body of Mordrock. Royce and Naismith stare in shock as to what just happened to their comrade, neither comprehending it but hoping it means good news.

Orcus lets out a fell rage as he witnesses the transformation and realizes who now stands on the battlefield – the legendary fighter, whose skull rests on the wand of Orcus; whose soul was imprisoned in the throne of Orcus; where legend has it he is the only one who can wash the wand in positive energy to destroy it for all eternity.

At the same time, several crimson portals erupt from behind Royce and Naismith…

it looks like the infernal cavalry has joined the party too.